"An epiphany in science is fairly rare, but when it happens, there is no sensation like it. The sudden recognition that all of the classic theories of stress were based almost entirely on males was a stunning revelation. I remember thinking, I didn’t know there were any big mistakes left in science. We stared at one another as the opportunity that lay before us became clear: a chance to start over and discover what females do in response to stress.” ~Dr. Shelley E. Taylor, The Tending Instinct
Review by Judith Eve Lipton, M.D.
“The concept is brilliant and it rings true: under stress, females are more likely to hunker down, care for their offspring, and turn to other females for social support, rather than to fight or flee. The latter, of course, is the dominant model of stress, which Dr. Taylor asserts (quite correctly, in my view) to be not only flawed, but based on sexist assumptions; after all, “fight or flight” is a conceptual model suggested by a man—Hans Selye—and most of the subsequent research about stress, until the mid 90s, was conducted only on male animals because “female hormones cycle too much.” And so, females were simply excluded while stress research addressed male physiology as though it were the stripped down, basic model common to both sexes, without those nasty hormone fluctuations. This male bias was true in medicine generally, not only the study of stress.”
From The American Psychological Association:
By Beth Azar
“In particular, they propose that females respond to stressful situations by protecting themselves and their young through nurturing behaviors--the "tend" part of the model--and forming alliances with a larger social group, particularly among women--the "befriend" part of the model. Males, in contrast, show less of a tendency toward tending and befriending, sticking more to the fight-or-flight response, they suggest…The tend-and-befriend response, in contrast, fits better the way females respond to stress. It builds on the brain's attachment/caregiving system, which counteracts the metabolic activity associated with the traditional fight-or-flight stress response--increased heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels--and leads to nurturing and affiliative behavior…”
Nancy K. Dess
"With these intriguing possibilities in mind, Taylor and her coworkers plumbed dozens of studies conducted in the last 30 years of species ranging from rats to monkeys to people in diverse cultures. It quickly became clear that, compared to males, females' physical aggression and fear-related behaviors are less intense and more "cerebral"--they are displayed in response to specific circumstances and are less tied to physiological arousal. So while both sexes share the capacity for fight or flight, females seem to use it less. Instead, Taylor's team found that, during tough times, stressed females spend significantly more time tending to vulnerable offspring than males. Studies by psychologist Rena Repetti in the late 1990's showed that after a hard day at work, women were much more nurturing toward their children, whereas men withdrew from family life. The researchers suspect that endorphins--proteins that help alleviate pain--and oxytocin--a female reproductive hormone--may play an important role in establishing this pattern, while factors like learning and socialization help to maintain it."
By Gail Post
"Why is this important? Dr. Taylor, and colleague, Laura Klein, Ph.D. suspect that the “tend and befriend” behavior in women, particularly as it pertains to social connections, may explain why women outlive men. Research has shown that individuals with strong social connections have an improved quality of life, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and even a reduced risk of death. Women seek out each other’s comfort when stressed. Finding a friend when you are under stress can facilitate the release of additional oxytocin, which helps create a greater sense of calm. Not only do friends offer many emotional supports, but it appears that their comfort provides health benefits as well."
UCLA Social Neuroscience Lab
"In threatening times, people seek positive social relationships, because such contacts provide protection to maintain one's own safety and that of one's offspring. This tend-and-befriend account of social responses to stress is the theoretical basis for our work. Until recently, the biosocial mechanisms underlying human affiliative responses to stress have remained largely unknown. Our previous research suggests that oxytocin and endogenous opioid peptides are implicated in these responses, especially in women. Our current research assesses whether oxytocin acts roughly as a social thermostat that is responsive to the adequacy of social resources, that prompts affiliative behavior if those resources fall below an adequate level, and that reduces biological and psychological stress responses, once positive social contacts are reestablished. Recently, we found that vasopressin (AVP), a hormone closely related to oxytocin, similarly acts as a barometer of close relationship quality in men."
by Lauren A. McCarthy
"Unlike the fight-or-flight response which allows one to fight against a threat if overcoming the threat is likely or flee if overcoming the threat is unlikely, the tend-and-befriend response is characterized by tending to young in times of stress and befriending those around in times of stress to increase the likelihood of survival. Since a group is more likely than an individual to overcome a threat, this response is a protective mechanism for both the female and her offspring. Basically, befriending other females is inherently necessary for the protection of offspring since pregnancy and nursing make a female even more vulnerable to an outside threat. Forming a network not only allows the female to have added protection and help with the raising of offspring, but also serves to secure resources such as housing and food. Although the threats mentioned are assumed to be external to the female home environment, this female network also serves to protect the females from the males even within the home environment. Studies even show that females who emigrate and are unable to form a female network, characteristic of female befriending, are more likely to become victims of abuse than women who are able to form these ties (Taylor et al., 2000)."
By Tian Dayton PhD, TEP
"According to a cutting edge UCLA study; women have a range of response to stress that goes beyond fight flight, freeze, to what researchers are calling tend and befriend. In stressful situations most men and women produce the hormone oxytocin also known as the “touch chemical”, the one that makes both people and animals “calmer, more social and less anxious”, says the study’s main researcher, Shelley E. Taylor. But that’s where the similarity ends. The testosterone in men counteracts the calming effects of oxytocin while estrogen enhances it. Oxytocin can also lead to maternal behaviors making women want to grab the children, gather with other women and cluster for safety."
Taylor SE, Klein LC, Lewis BP, Gruenewald TL,
Gurung RA, Updegraff JA
"The human stress response has been characterized, both physiologically and behaviorally, as "fight-or-flight." Although fight-or-flight may characterize the primary physiological responses to stress for both males and females, we propose that, behaviorally, females' responses are more marked by a pattern of "tend-and-befriend." Tending involves nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process. The biobehavioral mechanism that underlies the tend-and-befriend pattern appears to draw on the attachment-caregiving system, and neuroendocrine evidence from animal and human studies suggests that oxytocin, in conjunction with female reproductive hormones and endogenous opioid peptide mechanisms, may be at its core. This previously unexplored stress regulatory system has manifold implications for the study of stress." (Full text of article in PDF format)